Beverly Hills will reconstruct Santa Monica Boulevard in 2015. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to include bicycle lanes on a corridor that long turned its back on non-motorists. Rider safety is a best reason to support bicycle lanes, but there are many others too. Here we offer a dozen more reasons as the Blue-Ribbon Committee kicks-off deliberations about the appropriate design for tomorrow’s Santa Monica boulevard.
Imagine riders having to dodge potholes and storm grates; having impatient motorists following to closely; waiting for the collision impact as riders negotiate for space on a street used by 50,000 cars every day on average. These problems and others diminish the enthusiasm of riders who would travel one of our city’s most important thoroughfares. It need not be like this when the city reconstructs the boulevard in 2015. Why incorporate bicycle lanes? Read on!
Bicycle Lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard: Twelve Good Reasons
- Existing lanes in West Hollywood and Century City demand connection. Santa Monica Boulevard is a key piece of the regional bicycle ‘backbone’ network of bike-friendly streets. Cities all around Beverly Hills are planning for growth in cycling and so should we. Let’s start with a dedicated place on the blacktop for cyclists.
Destination Santa Monica via Beverly Hills. Courtesy Tom Wetzel.
Santa Monica Boulevard is the shortest distance between destinations on the Westside. Long ago, streetcars made it the most direct route from Hollywood to the beach; today it connects may key places like UCLA, job centers in West Los Angeles, Hollywood and neighborhoods beyond. It is the rider’s favored crosstown link. So let’s make it safe and convenient to facilitate multimodal mobility in the 21st century.
- Santa Monica Boulevard spans Beverly Hills and links gateways at Moreno and Doheny with community institutions like the Civic Center and the Annenberg. It should be bike-friendly. So let’s connect these destinations via a system of bikeways. And the first steps has already been taken: bicycle lanes have been installed on North Crescent and Burton Way.
Proposed bicycle network (circa 1977)
More broadly, Santa Monica Boulevard should be the linchpin of our citywide bicycle network (as called for in our plans since 1977). Like networks hailed by alternative transportation and health advocates; like systems being put in place in surrounding cities; like the holistic approach to two-wheeled transportation that riders say we need. Thirty-five years on, let’s make it the spine from which other bike-friendly routes branch.
- Bike-friendly improvements on the scale of Santa Monica Boulevard could spur our Traffic and Parking Commission to finally update that 1977-era Bicycle Master Plan for the 21st century (after three years of talking about it). Santa Monica did it: the city’s Land Use and Circulation Element expands bike facilities while frowning on development that would increase vehicle trips. Los Angeles too has committed to an ambitious expansion of bike facilities. We should follow their lead…beginning with a real bike plan.
Stakes illustrate the width necessary to provide every rider with a margin of safety: bicycle lanes.
Three-to-five feet of grass at the north-side curb is not much to lose to accommodate dual on-boulevard bicycle lanes. Paul Livingston will tell you that a dedicated bicycle lane could have saved him from a broken pelvis after a rear-ender on Santa Monica Boulevard near City Hall. Moreover, project consultants remind us that an 11-foot landscaped median will add net green space. That’s a tradeoff we should make as it makes a difference for rider safety.
- Federal money is available to create bicycle lanes but it’s ours only if we ask for it. No fewer than ten federal funding programs underwrite Class II bicycle lanes. The Surface Transportation Plan, Highway Safety Improvement Program, Safe Routes to School, and AQMD’s congestion mitigation & air quality program all fund it. Yet we in Beverly Hills have used AQMD funds only to buy a few bicycle racks and walked away from the rest for this $16m project. We should grab those federal dollars like other cities have.
- Santa Monica Boulevard could be an exemplary Rails-to-Trails project of which our city can be proud. Neither Los Angeles, West Hollywood or Santa Monica has recognized the boulevard’s long history as a streetcar corridor. We can distinguish our section with a bike & ped active recreation path in the Rails-to-Trails tradition at little or no cost.
- Cycling is a positive individual health choice and Beverly Hills should encourage it. Riding a bike is surely better than sitting in an upholstered chair and fiddling with a phone, right? Yet our policies make travel by car the safe choice – especially for crosstown travel. Active mobility makes healthy bodies and our transportation investments should support it.
- Cycling is a positive community health choice too. Beverly Hills should promote it. Departments of health recognize that active recreation makes for a longer and healthier life. And we know that individual decisions shape a community’s values. So let’s make cycling the default mobility choice – especially for local travel – and get more of us riding.
- The community that cycles together stays together. Throughout Europe people across classes cycle for everyday transportation. That is nowhere more evident than in Northern Europe where cycling coheres society around a set of values (safe streets, buying locally, and reducing emissions) and appropriate policy choices. We should follow their model.
- We can’t continue as we’re going, so let’s rethink mobility. Monica Boulevard is clogged with an average of 50,000 cars daily. The Wilshire intersection is one of the most crowded anywhere (yet it fails LOS capacity benchmarks). Cycling is a practical choice to relieve congestion and reduce emissions, so let’s get travelers onto a saddle and into their own dedicated lanes. For their safety, and for the benefit of our entire community.
If that is not enough to persuade the Santa Monica Boulevard Blue-Ribbon Committee to recommend bicycle lanes to City Council, let’s round it up to a baker’s dozen with an indisputably good reason: Our own city policies already call on us to drive less and ride more and they point the way toward a 21st century multimodal mobility future when active transportation will be a practical choice.
Our Sustainable City Plan (2009) for example envisions an energy-efficient community where residents can “walk and ride a bicycle whenever possible.” Among the plan’s policy goals: “Reduce traffic congestion while improving the pedestrian experience on roadways and encourage alternative forms of travel, especially to parks.” And it recommends we “reduce traffic-related emissions through investments in the City and the implementation of land-use and other strategies that reduce vehicular use and encourage the use of alternate transportation modes.”
Our General Plan is the guiding policy document for the city. The Circulation Element within the General Plan envisions a future where driving is not the only safe means of mobility:
Achieving a balanced transportation and land use pattern requires cohesive transportation and land use planning. Functional traffic patterns can only be achieved in connection with well planned development where alternatives to the driving are realistic options (taking public transportation, bicycling, and walking).
The Circulation Element goes on to identify these policy objectives:
Prepare a citywide bicycle master plan to determine desired improvements to the City’s bicycle network, including exploring opportunities where dedication may be required to connect regional pathways. Gather input from the community and provide bicycle education as part of the Bicycle Master Plan update. (Cir 8.1)
Require new development projects on existing and potential bicycle routes to facilitate bicycle and pedestrian access to and through the project, through designated pathways. (Cir 8.8)
We’ve been advocating for programs and investments to realize such policy goals since 2010. And the inclusion of bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard has always been our focus. But opponents of bicycle lanes bemoan the 3-5 feet of grass needed to fully incorporate bicycle lanes into the boulevard’s redesign. We hope we’ve suggested why rider safety and a multimodal mobility future make that tradeoff worthwhile.
Do you have any advice for Santa Monica Blue-Ribbon Committee as it discusses appropriate transportation improvements and design options for the corridor? Visit the city’s project page and let the committee know! Or contact us with your bike lane related questions. (Disclosure: Mark Elliot from Better Bike sits on the committee.)